Forty years ago, I was within a couple of short weeks of graduating from high school, and felt like I could do anything. But everywhere I turned, I was hearing that I would end up flipping burgers for a living, if I didn’t get a college education. After twelve years of school, that was the last thing on my agenda! Instead, I opted to join the Navy, and see the world!
After a decade of military service, I tired of living on the edge of poverty (my starting pay was $123.90 per month, before taxes!), and decided to get out, use my G.I. Bill and go where the real money was. A couple of years later, I got my associates degree in management, and found that it didn’t open any doors for me, which really shouldn’t have been any surprise. Several years later, I decided to pursue my engineering degree, and got my BS in electrical engineering. That, as it turned out, did open a few more doors, and I soon found myself getting slightly better offers than before.
However, I learned that the business world still valued experience highly, sometimes even over formal education. I managed to scramble my way up the ladder into management, and found that I enjoyed that a lot more than engineering, so I changed my focus to business management. That put me squarely at the bottom of the pile again, as an associates degree did little more than give me a leg up on the competition for that coveted mail room lackey position.
Back to school, for my MBA… rewrite my résumé… fire off a million or so copies… pump my professional network for all it was worth…BINGO! I landed a good job in management, and started working my way up from there. And all this took only thirty years or so!
Had I listened to the naysayers early on, I probably could have accelerated my progress tremendously… who knows? Still, many very successful people achieved their goals without a college education. A lot of dropouts are household names now. Mary Kay Ash, Sir Richard Branson, Simon Cowell, Barry Diller, Kerk Kirkorian, Ralph Lauren, Rachael Ray, even Bill Gates… they all dropped out of either high school or college, to pursue their dreams.
These people must have something in common. What is it? Is it drive? Luck? Native intelligence? Willingness to take risks? An associate of mine says it’s initiative. I don’t know if that’s the single greatest element in their respective successes, but I’m pretty certain that without it, they would never have achieved what they have. Initiative, by itself, doesn’t guarantee success, by any means, but I think the lack of it pretty well guarantees some degree of failure.
For my part, I’d rather employ an uneducated person with drive, than a complacent genius.